Ray McDonald’s latest arrest and quick release serves as the unceremonious end for Bears general manager Ryan Pace’s honeymoon period. And Pace should know it.
Signing McDonald was a personnel decision that Pace said he thoroughly vetted, but one that has immediately backfired on him.
“This was a thorough, well-discussed decision,” Pace said after signing him on March 24.
Pace will eat those words and other members of the Bears’ brass will do the same after McDonald’s latest run-in with the law.
McDonald was arrested on charges of misdemeanor domestic violence and child endangerment by Santa Clara police early Monday. Several hours later, the Bears released him.
Here’s a detailed look back at some of the comments made by the Bears about signing McDonald:
Pace first met with several local reporters to discuss signing McDonald at a restaurant at Arizona Biltmore during the NFL annual meetings on March 24. He defended his examination process and first explained how McDonald traveled to Chicago on his own and met with chairman George McCaskey.
Pace said more than once that the input of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and secondary coach Ed Donatell was invaluable. Ultimately, Pace was OK with giving McDonald a one-year deal without any guarantees.
On McDonald’s sexual-assault case: “We wouldn’t be where we’re at right now if we didn’t feel comfortable with where that’s at. It’s been thorough And just to be straight up on the whole thing, we talked about it and at one point, Ray reached out and said, ‘I want to fly my own way in. I want to come meet with George and ownership and talk this out.’ So he came in on his own dime and met with George for two-plus hours in Chicago and talked about everything. So we came out of that meeting and discussed it further and further and further. And again, with Vic and Ed’s background, the combination of that helped come to this decision.”
On Fangio’s and Donatell’s input: “They just talked about, and this is very early in the process when we hired Vic, that this is the type of person that he really is, the type of teammate he really is, the type of leader that he really is. I knew what he was as a player but I didn’t have that inner knowledge of what he was in the locker room, as a teammate or as a person. So that was huge. And you talk to other players, other teammates around the league, other coaches. All that helped lead us to this conclusion.”
On McDonald as a football player: “I’ve heard great things about his work ethic. His passion and approach to the game. I think when you look at all these players, you got to remember, we have scouting reports and character background going back to college and high school. We researched thoroughly all the way back. Quite honestly George called his parents. George called Ray’s parents. We’ve had a lot of discussions. We feel good about where we’re at right now.”
Later on March 24, McCaskey met with five local reporters at the Arizona Biltmore to discuss the signing of McDonald. It was a lengthy conversation that lasted nearly 30 minutes.
It was there where McCaskey detailed his one-on-one meeting with McDonald and also made his now-controversial comments about not speaking to the alleged victims because of potential bias.
On signing McDonald despite his legal problems: “The first thing, before he ever walked in the door, I gave him a lot of credit just for proposing the idea (of a meeting). Because Ryan had asked me for permission to pursue him. And we had a file on him with the information that we had gathered (on McDonald’s legal issues), and I looked at the file and came back and said, ‘No.’ So Ryan said, ‘Fine. We’ll move on to the next guy.’ And then Ray – I don’t know if he contacted Vic or Ryan directly or I don’t know how it came about – but he asked if I’d be willing to meet with him, and I said, ‘Yes.’ So the fact that he proposed that idea, I gave him a lot of credit for. And he was very candid, very forthright. It was a difficult conversation. It was long. It took a lot out of me. And I think it took a lot out of him. And after that conversation, I told Ryan that he had our permission (to sign him).”
On his meeting with McDonald: “He talked about growing up and his parents and his playing career. And then he talked about these incidents, which have become public knowledge. And he walked me through each one. And I don’t want to get too much into the particulars. I just want to give you a sense of the conversation. And I was impressed with how sincere he was and how motivated he is. He understands, I think, that he could have well been facing the end of his football career. And he loves football. And he wants that career to continue. So I was impressed with his motivation.”
On speaking to McDonald’s mother: “He said, ‘If you want, you can talk to my college coach, Urban Meyer, and my position coach from college.’ And after talking to him, I said, ‘I think I’d like to talk to your parents.’ And you need to be careful putting too much stock (in that). What would you expect a parent to say about their adult child? But the thing that impressed me after talking to them was the support system. They go to almost all of his games, even the out of town games. They’re there for him. He came from a strong two-parent upbringing, which sad to say isn’t all that common anymore these days. And even discounting what a parent had to say, I came away impressed with the support system that he has.”
On speaking to the alleged victims: “I didn’t. I don’t want to interfere with any investigations that might be ongoing. I did speak with a couple people at the league. they couldn’t offer me a lot of information. I thought that was an important element to cover. An alleged victim, I think — much like anyone else who has a bias in this situation — there’s a certain amount of discounting what they have to say. But our personnel department had done its work looking into the background and its incidents, and we had the benefit of two coaches who had been with him with the 49ers. And I spoke to Vic Fangio and came away very impressed with what Vic had to say about him — that he’s well-liked by his teammates, by his coaches. His strong work ethic — that he’s considered a leader on the field. And speaking to Vic and ray especially, I was convinced that he’s sufficiently motivated to make this work.”
On the standard of being a Chicago Bear: “That’s extremely important to us. We have a 96-year tradition of doing things a certain way, of bringing a certain type of player into our team. Those were my concerns going into the conversation with ray. But I think you look at every situation individually. You try to find out as much information as you can that’s reliable to make the best decision you can about whether to offer a player the privilege of becoming a Chicago Bear.”
A day later after Pace and McCaskey spoke, Fox met the media during the NFC coaches breakfast during the NFL annual meetings. It’s an hour-long breakfast, where wide-ranging questions were asked from reporters from all over the country, but McDonald remained a focal point.
On signing McDonald: “His name had come up very early in the process, probably a day after Vic Fangio was hired. So it’s not a snap decision by any stretch, a lot of research in all areas. Like most players, a lot goes into the evaluation process. No different with him. Obviously, any off the field issues we take very serious. They do happen as much as you do like to keep them out of your building. You coach against it just like you do on the field. We felt strong about him especially leaning heavily on four years, the relationship Ed Donatell and Vic Fangio had with him and I think Ray understands we have a standard and he’s going to need to meet that standard moving forward. Much like all the players we’ll acquire moving forward.”
On what he heard from Fangio that made him comfortable: “Well, just maybe some of the issues that have occurred quite frankly shocked his teammates and him. The fact that he was a great teammate. He felt he was one of the leaders on the defense, him and Justin Smith. Teammates thought very highly of him and you’re around your teammates a lot in this business. And the fact that he was a good, physical, tough football player. We were more concerned with some other areas that we deemed well enough to sign him.”
On caring about the reaction of signing McDonald: “Of course. I think anytime you acquire somebody or you make a decision, whether it is fourth down or maybe a player that might be perceived to be of questionable character, you know, we get criticized on everything. We know it comes with the territory. So, my experience has been that’s not the reason you do it – you don’t want to make decisions on what tomorrow’s headlines are. So we spent a lot of time and we’ll be judged by it moving forward.”
GEORGE McCASKEY PART 2
McCaskey followed up with reporters at the Ed Block Courage Award Luncheon on April 7 in Des Plaines. McCaskey was asked to clarify earlier statements and went over his decision process, though his comments were terse compared to his explanations at the NFL annual meetings. McCaskey did say he spoke with the owners of the San Francisco 49ers about McDonald.
On his statement about not speaking to an accuser because of bias: “I did say something about that and I said the same thing in context of talking to Ray’s parents. There’s going to be some bias, one side or the other, depending on what their perspective is. I also said that I didn’t want to interfere with any investigation on the criminal side or on the league side.
On the backlash of signing him: “I didn’t think there was that much backlash.”
On speaking to the 49ers about him: “The sense I got is that they like him very much as a person, but questioned his decision-making, and that’s something that Ray and I talked about and that I told him needs to be improved.”
On what he thinks of McDonald’s character: “I don’t know that I can speak expertly, because it was just one conversation. It was one lengthy, it was in-depth, it took a lot out of him, it took a lot out of me. I’m confident that he’s going to do what needs to be done, he’s going to do what’s expected of us and it’s up to him now.
The Bears’ new defensive coordinator met the Chicago media for the first time on May 9 during the team’s rookie minicamp. Since he’s installing a new 3-4 defense, Fangio was asked many questions. But he also strongly vouched for McDonald.
On what McDonald brings to the defense: “He brings toughness, brings good play. He’s an equally good player against the run and pass. He’s a guy that can play every down in there. He’s not just a run specialist or a pass specialist. He’s a good, solid player in all area.”
On McDonald’s character: “Obviously, I’d been around him for four years, so I knew what kind of guy he was on a daily basis, and nobody gets to know players and players get to know coaches more than when you’re in football because we’re with those guys eight, nine hours a day, and in training camp more. I know who he is. Even you guys, it’s been well reported about the process that we went through here in deciding whether to sign him or to pursue signing him. At that point where it was said we weren’t going to pursue it, at that point I called two other teams in the league to recommend that they sign Ray. And I called Ray’s agent to tell him, hey, if you need any character reference, anybody wants to talk to me about Ray, that they might be interested in signing him, have them feel free to call me. I think that tells you what I feel about him.”
On if it was unsettling for him to see the allegations against McDonald: “Well, it’s unsettling. He put himself in some situations that he didn’t need to be in. But the fact of the matter is he was never charged with anything. The headlines, I think, looked worse than what actually happened, but they happened. He made a mistake putting himself in those positions for that to happen. But ultimately he was not charged with anything. So we felt good about it here.”